On November 12, 2016, the mixed martial arts world had witnessed an event that had shaken it to its core. At UFC 205, Irish UFC Featherweight champion ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor defeated reigning Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, to become the first dual champion in UFC history. A sold-out Madison Square Garden, rose to their feet as they witnessed history, and ultimately, the story of poor Irishman becoming the face of a multi-billion-dollar company.
His popularity grew rapidly after a video emerged on Facebook, showing a compilation of McGregor’s insults aimed at Featherweight champion at the time, Jose Aldo. The compilation showed multiple press-conferences, behind the scenes footage and interviews where McGregor’s wittiness and confidence overpowered Aldo. McGregor predicted that Aldo would come swinging and ‘felt his right-hand twitching’ when they had come face to face.
This prediction came to fruition at UFC 196, when Aldo’s 10-year undefeated streak came to an end in just 13 seconds, when McGregor dodged Aldo’s swinging right hand and knocked out the champion. This prediction, along with the fight result, gave McGregor the nickname ‘Mystic-Mac’ and ultimately began McGregor’s rise to becoming the face of the UFC.
So how did this fighter from Dublin, go from living week to week on the government’s welfare system, to becoming worth $60 million and the face of a multi-billion-dollar company?
It’s simple: social media and branding.
With McGregor’s last four fights reaching over 1 million pay-per-view buys and generating millions of dollars for the UFC, the UFC have made McGregor one of the key players in mixed martial arts. He’s been featured on video game covers, done late night interviews with Conan O’Brien and has even branched out and appeared in YouTube videos with some of YouTube’s most popular content creators.
As McGregor’s wealth grew exponentially, his choice in how he would present himself changed. He would wear tailored suits and Rolex’s to interviews demonstrating a more professionalised approach. Although he would often boast about his money and how much money he made for the UFC, he would often mention how humbled and blessed he is, focusing on his connection with the fans. This focus on relationship building would automatically see an increase in engagement with his fans which keeps them interested (Gholsten, Kuofie 2016).
According to some sources, McGregor will make approximately $60 million in the next year. This focus around how much he has earnt, became the foundation of his social media pages, such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
His Instagram page is particularly interesting, for its incredible growth especially after his historic UFC 205 victory, which saw his followers grow from around 4 million to 9 million in just the short span of a month. After this large growth in followers, he became much more aware of his marketability. And began to create consistent visual image for his brand that would make the right impression on his target audience. (Chritton, 2013)
His Instagram posts demonstrate a range of different photos and different captions. For example, a post featuring a family member would include a post about the importance of that person and family in his life, while another photo may be just a shot of his Rolex with a simple one line such as ‘this left hand made me millions’. This broad spectrum of posts has different connections with his audience and is a way in which McGregor can strategically boost his popularity and maintain this lavish persona.
With his social media pages demonstrating his flamboyant and expensive lifestyle, he has recently been getting attention from boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both competitors have taken shots at each other through social media, generating hype for what could be one of the biggest boxing fights in history. Analysing McGregor and Mayweather’s Instagram pages, both have similar themes revolving money and family, which has caught Mayweather’s attention and had started this feud.
Conor McGregor and his exponential growth in popularity, demonstrates perfectly how people can be their own brands. Utilising social media and focusing on a connection with his audience has become a key factor in becoming his own brand.
Gholston, K, Kuofie, M, & Hakim, AC 2016, ‘Social Media for Marketing by Small Businesses’, Journal of Marketing & Management, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 24-39.
Lee, C, & Kahle, L 2016, ‘The Linguistics of Social Media: Communication of Emotions and Values in Sport’, Sport Marketing Quarterly, 25, 4, pp. 201-211, SPORTDiscus with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 March 2017.